Story type: Literature
Neither the French nor the English had any right to the Ohio country which they both claimed. If it belonged to any people of right, it belonged to the savages, who held it in their way before the whites came, and who now had to choose which nation should call itself their master. They chose the French, and they chose wisely for themselves as savages; for, as I have said, if the French had prevailed in the war that was coming, the Indians could have kept their forests and lived their forest life as before. The French would have been satisfied in the West as they had been in the North, with their forts and trading stations, and the Indians could have hunted, and fished, and trapped, as they had always done. In fact, the French people would often have become like them. They understood the Indians and liked them; sometimes they mated with them, and their children grew up as wild as their mothers. The religion that the French priests taught the Indians, pleased while it awed them, and it scarcely changed their native customs.
Wherever the English came, the Indians’ woods were wasted, and the Indians were driven out of the land.
The English tried neither to save their souls nor to win their hearts; they both hated and despised the savages, and ruthlessly destroyed them. Now, when the smoldering strife between the French and English in the West burst into an open flame of war between the two nations, the Western tribes took the side of those whom reason and instinct taught them to know as their best friends.
But ten years after Celoron visited Ohio, Wolfe captured Quebec, and France gave up to England not only the whole of Canada, but the whole of the vast region between the lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, and kept for herself only the Province of Louisiana. The Indians were left to their fate, and they made what terms they could with the English. They promised peace, but they broke their promises, and constantly harassed the outlying English settlements. At one time they joined together under the great chief Pontiac, and tried to win back the West for themselves. The French forts had been ceded to Great Britain and garrisoned with British troops, and the allied Indians now took all of these but Detroit and Fort Pitt. In the end they failed, and then they made peace again, but still they kept up their forays along the English borders. They stole horses and cattle, they burned houses and barns, they killed men, women, and children, or carried them off into captivity. In the Ohio country alone their captives counted hundreds, though the right number could never be known, for they could easily be kept out of the way when the tribes were summoned to give them up.
It was the same story in the West that it had been in the East, and the North, and the South, wherever the savages fell upon the lonely farms or the scattered hamlets of the frontiers, and it was not ended until our own day, when the Indians were at last shut up in reservations.
It was their custom to carry off the women and children. If the children were hindered the march of their mothers, or if they cried and endangered or annoyed their captors, they were torn a hawked, or their brains were dashed out against the trees. But if they were well grown, and strong enough to keep up with the rest, they were hurried sometimes hundreds of miles into the wilderness. There the fate of all prisoners was decided in solemn council of the tribe. If any men had been taken, especially such as had made a hard fight for their freedom and had given proof of their courage, they were commonly tortured to death by fire in celebration of the victory won over them; though it sometimes happened that young men who had caught the fancy or affection of the Indians were adopted by the fathers of sons lately lost in battle. The older women became the slaves and drudges of the squaws and the boys and girls were parted from their mothers and scattered among the savage families. The boys grew up hunters and trappers, like the Indian boys, and the girls grew up like the Indian girls, and did the hard work which the warriors always left to the women. The captives became as fond of their wild, free life as the savages themselves, and they found wives and husbands among the youths and maidens of their tribe. If they were given up to their own people, as might happen in the brief intervals of peace, they pined for the wilderness, which called to their homesick hearts, and sometimes they stole back to it. They seem rarely to have been held for ransom, as the captives of the Indians of the Western plains were in our time. It was a tie of real love that bound them and their savage friends together, and it was sometimes stronger than the tie of blood. But this made their fate all the crueler to their kindred; for whether they lived or whether they died, they were lost to the fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters whom they had been torn from; and it was little consolation to these that they had found human mercy and tenderness in the breasts of savages who in all else were like ravening beasts. It was rather an agony added to what they had already suffered to know that somewhere in the trackless forests to the westward there was growing up a child who must forget them. The time came when something must be done to end all this and to put a stop to the Indian attacks on the frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia. The jealous colonies united with the jealous mother country, and a little army of British regulars and American recruits was sent into Ohio under the lead of Colonel Henry Bouquet to force the savages to give up their captives.
This officer, who commanded the king’s troops at Philadelphia, was a young Swiss who had fought in the great wars of Europe, in the service of the king of Piedmont and of the Dutch republic, before he was given a commission by the king of Great Britain. He had distinguished himself by his bravery, his skill, and his good sense. He seems to have been the first European commander to disuse the rules of European warfare, and to take a lesson from our pioneers in fighting the Indians, and the year before he set out for the Ohio country, he had beaten the tribes in a battle that taught them to respect him. They found that they had no such wrong-headed leader as Braddock to deal with; and that they could not hope to ambush Bouquet’s troops, and shoot them down like cattle in a pen; and the news of his coming spread awe among them.
He gathered his forces together at Fort Pitt, after many delays. At one time a full third of his colonial recruits deserted him, but he waited till he had made up their number again, and then he started at the head of fifteen hundred men, on the 3d of October, 1764. A body of Virginians went first in three scouting parties, one on the right and one on the left, to beat up the woods for lurking enemies, and one in the middle with a guide, to lead the way. Then came the pioneers with their axes, and two companies of light infantry followed, to clear the way for the main body of the troops. A column of British regulars, two deep, marched in the center with a file of regulars on their right, and a file of Pennsylvanian recruits on their left.
Two platoons of regulars came after these; then came a battalion of Pennsylvanians in single file on the right and left, and between them the convoy, with the ammunition and tools first, then the officers’ baggage and tents, then the sheep and oxen in separate droves for the subsistence of the army, then the pack horses with other provisions. A party of light horsemen followed, and last of all another body of Virginians brought up the rear. The men marched in silence, six feet from one another, ready, if any part of the force halted, to face outward, and prepare to meet an attack.
The Indians hung upon Bouquet’s march in large numbers at first, but when they saw the perfect order and discipline of his army, and the knowledge of their own tactics which he showed in disposing his men, they fell away, and he kept his course unmolested, so that in two weeks he reached a point in the Ohio country which he could now reach in two hours, if he took rail from Pittsburg direct. But the wonder is for what he did then, and not for what he could do now. His two weeks’ march through the wilderness was a victory such as had never been achieved before, and it moved the imagination of the Indians more than if he had fought them the whole way.
His quiet firmness in establishing his force in the heart of their country, where they had gathered the strength of their tribes from all the outlying regions, must have affected them still more. At the first halt he made on the Muskingum, they sent some of their chiefs to parley with him, but he gave them short and stern answers, bidding them be ready to bring in their captives from every tribe and family; and again took up his march along the river till he reached the point where the Tuscarawas and Waldhonding meet to form the Muskingum. There his axmen cleared a space in the forest, and his troops built a town, rather than pitched a camp. They put up four redoubts, one at each corner of the town, and fortified it with a strong stockade. Within this they built a council house, where the Indians could come and make speeches to their hearts’ content, and deliver up their captives. Three separate buildings, one for the captives from each of the colonies, with the officers’ quarters, the soldiers’ cabins, the kitchens, and the ovens, were inclosed within the fort, and the whole was kept in a neatness and order such as the savages had never seen, with military severity.
The tribes soon began to bring in their prisoners, each chief giving up the captives of his tribe with long harangues, and many gifts of wampum, as pledges of good faith, and promises of a peace never to be broken. They said they had not merely buried the hatchet now, where it might sometime be dug up, but they had thrown it into the sky to the Great Spirit, who would never give it back again. They wished Bouquet to notice that they no longer called the English brothers, as they commonly did when they were friendly, but they called them fathers, and they meant to be their children and to do their bidding like children. They made him a great number of flattering speeches, and he gravely listened to their compliments, but as to the reasons they gave for breaking their promises in the past he dealt very frankly with them. He reminded them of their treacheries, and cruelties of all kinds, and of their failure to restore their captives after they had pledged themselves to do so, and he said, “This army shall not leave your country till you have fully complied with every condition that is to precede my treaty with you…. I give you twelve days from this date to deliver into my hands all the prisoners in your possession, without any exception; Englishmen, Frenchmen, women and children, whether adopted into your tribes, married or living amongst you under any pretense whatsoever, together with all negroes. And you are to furnish the said prisoners with clothing, provisions, and horses, to carry them to Fort Pitt…. You shall then know on what terms you may obtain the peace you sue for.”
These words are said to have quite broken the spirit of the savages, already overawed by the presence of such an army as they had never seen in their country before. One of the great chiefs of the Delawares said: “With this string of wampum we wipe the tears from your eyes, we deliver you these prisoners… we gather and bury with this belt all the bones of the people that have been killed during this unhappy war, which the Evil Spirit occasioned among us. We cover the bones that have been buried, that they may never more be remembered. We again cover their place with leaves that it may no more be seen. As we have been long astray, and the path between you and us stopped, we extend this belt that it may be again cleared…. While you hold it fast by one end, and we by the other, we shall always be able to discover anything that may disturb our friendship.”
Bouquet answered that he had heard them with pleasure, and that in receiving these last prisoners from them he joined with them in burying the bones of those who had fallen in the war, so that the place might no more be known. “The peace you ask for, you shall now have,” he said, but he told them that it was his business to make war, and the business of others to make peace, and he instructed them how and with whom they were to treat. He took hostages from them, and he dealt with the other tribes on the same terms as they brought in their captives. On the 18th of November, he broke up his camp and marched back to Fort Pitt, with more than two hundred men, women, and children whom he had delivered from captivity among the savages.
It is believed that six hundred others were never given up. The captives were not always glad to go back to their old homes, and the Indians had sometimes to use force in bringing them to the camp where their friends and kindred who had come with Bouquet’s army were waiting to receive them. Many had been taken from their homes when they were so young that they could not remember them, and they had learned to love the Indians, who had brought them up like their own children, and treated them as lovingly as the fathers and mothers from whom they had been stolen. In the charm of the savage life these children of white parents had really become savages; and certain of the young girls had grown up and married Indian husbands to whom they were tenderly attached. The scenes of parting between all these were very touching on both sides, and it is told of one Indian who had married a Virginian girl that he followed her back to the frontier at the risk of his life from her people. The Indians gave up the captives often so dear to them, with tears and lamentations, while on the other hand their kindred waited to receive them in an anguish of hope and fear. As the captives came into the camp, parents sought among them for the little ones they had lost, and husbands for the wives who had been snatched from their desolated homes. Brothers and sisters met after a parting so long that one or other had forgotten the language they once spoke in common. The Indians still hung about the camp, and came every day to visit their former prisoners and bring them gifts. When the army took up its march some of them asked leave to follow it back to Fort Pitt, and on the way they supplied their adopted children and brothers with game, and sought in every way to show their love for them.
Bouquet reached Pittsburg in ten days, without the loss of a single life at the hands of the savages, and with all his men in excellent health. Each day of his march he had pitched his camp among scenes of sylvan loveliness, on the banks of the pleasant streams that watered the fertile levels and the wild meadows, or wound through the rich valleys between the low hills. It would have been wonderful if his Pennsylvanian and Virginian recruits had not looked upon the land with covetous eyes: even the fathers and husbands and brothers who had come seeking their kindred among the Indians, had seen it with a longing to plant their homes in it. Its charms had been revealed to great numbers of the people who had known of it only from the traders before, and the savage was doomed from that time to lose it; for it already belonged to the king of England, and it rested with the English colonists to come and take it; or so, at least, they thought.
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